Shoeless Joe's Running Puts Giants in Playoffs

Washington Post

Wouldn't you know that, moments after the New York Giants earned a wild-card playoff spot, somebody dubbed the Giants' vehicle to the postseason Shoeless Joe Morris.

The Giants defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-10, Saturday as Morris rushed for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns in 36 carries.

"You see Joe play so hard," Giant defensive end Casey Merrill said, "and you feel like a bum if you don't give 100% yourself."

Morris is 5-7, the littlest Giant of all. "Joe Morris is small, but he's big," linebacker Harry Carson said, and you wouldn't have understood unless you saw Morris break three tackles on a 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, going the last 45 yards with his right shoe missing, his sock flapping in the wind.

"His height's deceiving, " Carson said. "He's strong, with a big heart. He broke the records of Larry Csonka and Jim Brown at Syracuse so he must have something, right?"

The Giants handed their playoff future to Morris Saturday, and he responded by running for 153 yards and his 19th, 20th and 21st touchdowns of the season in the first half, when the Giants built a 28-3 lead.

The Giants finished the regular season at 10-6 and will play host to either the Washington Redskins or the San Francisco 49ers in the National Conference wild-card game here next weekend. If the 49ers defeat Dallas today, they will play the Giants; if the 49ers lose, the Redskins will play the Giants.

The Steelers, meanwhile, ended with a 7-9 record, their first losing season since 1971.

Steeler Coach Chuck Noll said: "I was less than inspired. That's the worst butt-kicking we've taken in a long time."

The Giants' Merrill swore he saw Morris stop at the Steeler five to pull up his sock, before scoring on the play. That didn't happen, but what did happen was that Morris finished the regular season with 1,336 yards, shattering the club record of 1,182 yards that Ron Johnson set in 1972.

Morris, headed for his first Pro Bowl, became the first player to rush for 200 yards in a game against Pittsburgh since Buffalo's O.J. Simpson did it against the Steel Curtain in 1975. Morris' touchdowns Saturday measured 9, 1 and 65 yards.

Morris said: "Until I play a perfect game, I won't be happy with what I did."

The Steelers, who received a Noll-lashing at halftime, according to several players, scored a quick touchdown in the third quarter, on a 34-yard pass from third-string quarterback Scott Campbell to John Stallworth. Then, they receded quietly.

Linebacker Robin Cole, a ninth-year Steeler, said: "We need to play football with aggression and we haven't done that. We knew we had to gang-tackle Morris today, but we were arm-tackling him. We missed tackles. That's why he ran all over us."

New York went into this game knowing the consequences of a loss. If the Giants had been beaten, they would have needed either the Redskins or the 49ers to lose this weekend to make the playoffs.

Conversely, the game meant nothing to the Steelers.

Their two running backs, Frank Pollard and Walter Abercrombie, were escorted off the field by the team trainer with injuries during the first half, although Pollard later returned. Their punter, Harry Newsome, had sore ribs after having to make a third-quarter tackle.

Their quarterback, Campbell, completed only 5 of 17 passes in the first half. Campbell started because Mark Malone (broken toe/concussion) and David Woodley (shoulder bruise) were hurting. Malone entered in the third quarter, completed 1 of 6 passes for minus-four yards, at which point Campbell returned.

Campbell was sacked three times and was pounded numerous other times after he had released a pass. Because of the Giants' pass rush, the Steelers' All-Pro receiver, Louis Lipps, didn't catch a ball until the second half, at which point the outcome had been decided.

Meanwhile, the Giants' quarterback, Phil Simms, just kept handing off to Morris, who never had carried 36 times in a game before.

Morris' most remarkable run was the 65-yard scoring play in the second quarter. He burst up the middle on a delayed handoff. Cole blitzed and barely got an arm on Morris as he raced by. Cornerback Ralph Clayton missed a tackle near midfield as Morris darted left. Safety Rick Woods dived for Morris' ankles near the Pittsburgh 45 and knocked off his right shoe.

But Morris was never headed. It was 14-3, about to become 20-3.

The Giants had lost two of their three games before Saturday. "We knew that (clinching a playoff spot) was inevitable, but it kept slipping away," said Merrill, who had two of the Giants' three sacks Saturday. "All of a sudden, though, we were down to our last game today."

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